LIGHTING is one of those things in a restaurant which you don’t notice until it’s wrong. And it’s surprising how often it is.
There was an Indian restaurant in Rotherham where the lighting was so dim that I recommended readers bring a torch.
It was no better in a Bakewell eaterie where the murk was so thick we couldn’t see what we were eating. My wife asked the waitress to bring another candle. She did but missed the hint. We felt like we were at that place in London where guests eat in total darkness.
Sheffield can be just as bad. A couple of restaurateurs pride themselves on being eco-friendly or perhaps they are just keeping the electricity bill down.
I recall struggling to read a menu printed black on brown, getting up from the table to stand under a 20 watt bulb.
Then there are tea lights and candles. Most places have them but they don’t necessarily get lit. I don’t smoke but am thinking of carrying a cigarette lighter so I can light them myself (it’s a point off the service ratings if we have to ask).
Such tardiness would puzzle a Norwegian. Over there they are tea light crazy. Even the humblest café has them and they are lit the moment they open, even if it’s broad daylight. Mind you, this is a nation which insists on car headlights 24 hours a day.
Perhaps the catering trade classes candles and tea lights as an elfansafety risk. There is something in that. I was in a small party where one of the guests accidentally held her menu too near a flame and the whole thing suddenly torched.
It was the most exciting event of the night.
Which brings me to Rowsha, a dinky Lebanese eaterie on South Road, Walkey. While waiting for our food we counted 15 electric lanterns hanging from the ceiling or attached to the walls. All were on and it was neither too dark nor too bright. But each table had little lanterns containing tea lights and the management didn’t think to light any of them all night. Why have them if they are not used? They add a little atmosphere to the table.
At Rowsha we were trying an experiment I hatched while having a tapas lunch at the Mediterranean in Sharrowvale Road. For me the most interesting bit about having an Arab meal is quite often all the little mezze you eat first, rather than kebabs and rice. So why not start and finish with the starters as Arabic tapas?
Rowsha, which we had visited some years ago under previous ownership, is bang next door to Vito’s Italian eaterie. It is small, seating about 30, with red and white walls and lots of mirrors as well as lanterns. There’s a screen which flashes up pictures of many of the dishes as well as photographs of diners having a good time.
The menu has 19 mezze in all. We rather flummoxed our East European waitress by saying we would have all eight hot ones and throw in a few cold ones for good measure. Our only stipulation was that she should bring them in batches.
We kicked off with pleasant marinated olives (£1.95) and khobz, Lebanese flatbread, which is normally 85p but we didn’t get charged because it was included in other dishes, plus falafel and moujadarrah, both £3.95. The heart-shaped falafel was so-so but what we really liked was the latter dish, consisting of green lentils and rice, with yoghurt and salad.
The combination of earthy lentils and soft rice, particularly since it was garnished with those crispy dry fried red onions the Middle East does so well, was very appealing. There may be almost 3,000 miles between Lebanon and India but this dish, apart from the spicing, is identical to Indian kichiri, from which we get our own fishy kedgeree.
We dipped into the cold mezze menu for makdous (£4), baby aubergine stuffed with walnuts, which tasted as if they had been pickled first, and a good array of rice-stuffed vine leaves (£4.50), which were advertised as cold but came to us warm.
We’d had a good cross-section of flavours and might well have called it a day, except that we had another four dishes already on order. Now it might have been we were a little jaded but these seemed to lack a spark.
We had both versions of bourak (£4.50), the Arab version of pasties, filled with either feta cheese or spinach. The latter was a little too coarsely chopped so there was no silky filling to contrast with the pastry. Batata harra (£4.50) was the Lebanese equivalent of the Spanish patatas bravas and on this showing a little lacklustre.
We enjoyed foules Mesdames (£4.50), that Egyptian classic of gutsy, garlicky broad beans, but Rowhsa’s version of moussaka (£4.50) was a little disappointing, more like a stew than anything else. The experiment worked and the bill for food was £45.05 but we did have a lot. We washed it down with a bottle of Alamaza Lebanese beer (£3) and a glass of wine (£4.50) and finished off with a couple of very good Lebanese coffees (rather like Turkish).
Rowshsa was taken over recently by Sizar Alandari who is the chef. He’s half Lebanese and half-Syrian and says it’s safer over here.
The Dawes Verdict
288 South Road Walkley Sheffield S6 3TE.
Tel: 0114 233 1166.
Open all week 6-11pm.
Licensed. Vegetarian dishes. Music. Credit cards. Street parking.